How would you feel if you were minding your own business, stopped at a stop sign, were suddenly hit from behind by a school bus, and found out that you would be stuck paying for many of your medical bills? That is what a Broken Arrow man is wondering today. Just before his 45th birthday, he was recently hit from behind by a school bus owned by a school district. The accident was clearly the fault of the school bus driver. The man suffered two broken ribs, a shattered pelvis, a crushed ankle, two broken bones in his legs and a bruised lung. Although he works at two jobs, he cannot afford to pay for his needed rehab because he doesn't have health insurance.
So what's the problem? If I hit someone from behind, I would certainly be required to pay the medical bills of the person I injured. Surely the school district has the money to pay for his medical bills since the accident was clearly the school district's fault, right? The answer is yes, the school district does have the money to pay for his medical bills but unlike Oklahoma's citizens, Oklahoma law says that the responsibility of the school district is limited. The Governmental Tort Claims Act says that the state and its "political subdivisions" are only responsible up to $125,000--far less than medical bills for such serious injuries. "Political subdivisions" include cities, towns, counties, and public trusts (such as most county-owned hospitals). The government believes that it is different than its citizens and Oklahoma businesses. If a UPS truck had hit the Broken Arrow man, UPS would be required to pay for all of his medical bills caused by the accident. The same is true if he had been hit by you or me.
So if the school district doesn't have to pay for all of his injuries, surely the bus driver--the individual that caused the accident--would have to pay for the medical bills, right? No. The bus driver is immune--the Governmental Tort Claims Act grants him immunity--he can never be sued for the accident he caused. Of course, if you were working for Burger King and while on the job hit someone from behind, you would be responsible for all the injuries you caused (and so would Burger King). Why doesn't the government feel that it can create laws that say that it does not have to play by the same rules it applies to everyone else? that is a question for your legislator. I guess the bottom line is that if you are unlucky enough to be involved in an accident, I hope you are lucky enough to not be hit by a government vehicle!